Sun Valley, Idaho — Zoe Dunn’s long blonde ponytail flows from under her helmet and over her right shoulder. She is still wearing her blue, black and white kit (Team Giant-Martial Arts of Tucson) as she stands on the race course sidelines of the USA Cycling Cross Country National Championships at the base of Bald Mountain. As racers pass, she shakes a cow bell and chimes out encouraging words, but her ice-green eyes are focused uphill on riders yet to come. Her crunched brow and parted lips indicate she might be a little concerned; she hasn’t seen her little sister, racer 324, make a lap yet.
Then she spies the younger Dunn in an Absolute Bikes’ orange and blue jersey and her eyes relax. As Phoebe Dunn, 11, pedals by, Zoe vigorously shakes the cow bell and calls for her sister to go, go, go.
Zoe, 14, of Chino Valley, Ariz., was among nearly 300 youth (including the U23 category) racing in Cross Country Nationals July 5-8 in Sun Valley, Idaho.
It makes sense that the heavy hitters at such races get all the press. They’re the best in our sport, and it’s mind-blowing to watch them blaze down rock gardens and rip through corners. With the 2012 Olympics around the corner, the field was star-studded at last week’s races. Among those vying for top spots were the four riders named to the 2012 U.S. Olympic Mountain Bike Team (Lea Davison, Georgia Gould, Sam Schultz and Todd Wells).
But the less-publicized and less-attended junior races are more inspiring: The kids have a ton of heart and really shine light on the future of mountain biking. Plus, these young cyclists (including the 29 boys and girls in the 10 and under category) can really put the hammer down.
To Zoe Dunn, racing is pure fun. “I’ve always wanted to race bikes. My parents are active in mountain biking, and my dad raced yesterday,” Zoe says, while pushing her “new-to-her” Giant carbon cross country bike from point to point along the race course.
“I did a little better than expected. I thought I was gonna be dead last,” she says of her results a couple hours prior at Nationals.
A middle-schooler headed to high school in the fall, Zoe is looking forward to riding with more cyclists her age. There aren’t a lot of people to begin with in her home of Chino Valley, and a lot of the residents ride horses. She laments that most of the mountain biking in that area consists of four-wheel-drive roads. But it doesn’t stop her from getting out and pushing for top-level cycling at her high school.
Her school has applied for National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) status, and she is excited about competing at that level.
“But if we don’t get NICA, we’re gonna start our own club. And we’re gonna get all the BMX kids to join our team,” she smiles.
Pro athletes are also reaching out to younger cyclists, helping them get equipment, cheering them on at races like pro single-speeder Tanya Pritcher, sharing tips and holding instructional clinics at little or no expense.
Ketchum, Idaho, local pro mountain biker Rebecca Rusch held her regularly scheduled Wheel Girls clinic on the Tuesday before the big races to encourage her tween and teen girls to keep riding hard (and possibly even race at Nationals if they were so inspired).
As part of the SRAM Gold Rusch Tour, Wheel Girls is a weekly riding camp designed to get younger girls into the sport of mountain biking and teaching them the skills and knowledge to be comfortable learning and participating in the sport. Clinics focus on riding skills, trail etiquette, volunteer trail work and the opportunity to participate or volunteer in a race.
Others serve as coaches, such as cross country national champ and silver world medalist Julia Violich of the Whole Athlete team.
Coaches are always there for student athletes in ways that parents cannot be, explains mom Susann Nordrum of Corte Madera, Calif., whose daughter, Josie, took fourth in cross country Nationals among Junior Women 17-18. “Julia is a great friend and confidante, with experience and advice about racing, courage, discipline and anything else Josie needs to know,” Nordrum says.
Additionally, Josie has “greatly enjoyed” the people she’s met through biking. Others have given time, shared their experiences, and help and add to the camaraderie on the trail, according to Nordrum. Above all, Josie’s teammates are always there for her.
“Growing up with two sisters, mountain biking has been a great way for Josie to be friends with boys and enjoy their goofy, high-octane energy. They certainly inspire and coach her to her best potential on the heart-stopping technical skills, steep downhills, track stands and bunny hops,” says Nordrum, who got to sample Sun Valley’s singletrack with husband Louis while their daughter trained during the week. (For a parents' perspective on raising a racer, click here.)
Joking about their roles as frantic parents of young female mountain bike racers, Nordrum says that, at the end of the day, they just hope Josie finishes rubber side down. “If she does, everyone’s happy. Well, that is unless she finished in either of the two ‘if-only’ misery spots, second place or one short of podium. DFL is not a misery spot, but rather honorable since everyone slower either gave up or was too intimidated to show up.”
With that, in honor of all the groms ripping it up last week, we’re listing the U23 and Juniors results here. For other results in the cross country races, visit http://www.usacycling.org/results.
USA Cycling Mountain Bike Cross-Country National Championships
U23 and Junior Results
Men U23 - 19-22
1. Russell Finsterwald (Colorado Springs, Colo./Trek Subaru) 1:32:27 2. Howard Grotts (Durango, Colo./Fort Lewis College) 1:33:19 3. Skyler Trujillo (Fort Collins, Colo./Niner Stans Ergon) 1:38:55 4. Zachary Valdez (Hemet, Calif./Whole Athlete-Specialized) 1:39:39 5. Anthony Smith (San Rafael, Calif./Whole Athlete-Specialized) 1:39:48
Men Junior - 17-18
1. Keegan Swenson (Park City, Utah/Cannondale Factory Racing) 1:17:08 2. Lucas Newcomb (Nicasio, Calif./Whole Athlete-Specialized) 1:19:29 3. Cody Phillips (Monrovia, Calif.) 1:20:47 4. Sepp Kuss (Durango, Colo.) 1:20:51 5. Casey Williams (Big Bear City, Calif./Whole Athlete-Specialized) 1:20:52 Men - 1 - Junior - 15-16 1. Marcus Segedin (Greenbrae, Calif./Whole Athlete-Specialized) 1:28:19 2. Garrett Gerchar (Boulder, Colo./BJC-Tokyo Joe's Junior Development) 1:28:49 3. Landen Beckner (Helena, Mont./Montana Velo) 1:29:44 4. Griffin Park (Springville, Utah) 1:29:52 5. Peter Karinen (Painesdale, Mich.) 1:30:10
Men Junior 13-14
1. Christopher Blevins Durango, Colo./Durango Devo) 43:02 2. Sean McElroy (Palmdale, Calif./Team Specialized Racing Juniors) 45:08 3. Imeh Nsek (Ontario, Calif./Southern California Velo) 46:00 4. Anders Johnson (Huntsville, Utah) 46:29 5. Evan Clouse (Park City, Utah/Cole Sport) 47:04
Men Junior - 11-12
1. Jake Yackle (Cortez, Colo./Yackle Brothers Racing) 38:32 2. Nathan Hickey (Monrovia, Calif.) 39:18 3. Andrew Schmidt (Lake Geneva, Wisc./Tread Head Cycling) 39:33 4. Colton Sacket (Troy, Texas/Tri-City Bicycles) 40:18 5. James Roloff (Boise, Idaho) 41:02
Men Junior - 1-10
1. Nye Yackle (Cortez, Colo./Yackle Brothers Racing) 32:23 2. Luke Lamperti (Sebastopol, Calif./Team Swift) 32:51 3. Ty Gibbs (Cornelius, N.C.) 36:17 4. Dylan Fluckiger (Twin Falls, Idaho) 37:06 5. Alec Burton (Big Bear Lake, Calif.) 37:56
Women U23 - 19-22
1. Lauren Catlin (Fairfax, Calif./Durango Devo) 1:32:48 2. Deidre York (Indio, Calif./The Gear Movement-Epic Pro Cycle) 1:34:09 3. Jill Behlen (Boulder, Colo./Tokyo Joe's-Whole Foods-Primal) 1:36:02 4. Kaila Hart (Durango, Colo./NO TUBES ELITE WOMENS RACING) 1:36:24 5. Katie Sodergren (Breckenridge, Colo./Tokyo Joe's-Whole Foods-Primal) 1:39:57
Women Junior - 17-18
1. Grace Alexander (Boise, Idaho/MTB PRO Team: BMC Mountainbike Development Team) 1:07:46 2. Shayna Powless (Roseville, Calif./MTB PRO Team: BMC Mountainbike Development Team) 1:09:01 3. Kate Courtney (Kentfield, Calif./Whole Athlete-Specialized) 1:10:33 4. Josie Nordrum (Corte Madera, Calif./Whole Athlete-Specialized) 1:11:24 5. Kaylee Blevins (Durango, Colo./Durango Devo) 1:11:38
Women Junior - 15-16
1. India Waller (Durango, Colo./Durango Devo) 1:14:36 2. Tiziana DeHorney (Albuquerque, N.M./Get Out! New Mexico) 1:18:03 3. Ksenia Lepikhina (Boulder, Colo./BJC-Tokyo Joe's Junior Development) 1:18:49
Women Junior - 13-14
1. Haley Batten (Park City, Utah) 49:47 2. Hailey Swirbul (Carbondale, Colo.) 49:54 3. Mina Anderberg (Louisville, Colo./T.E.A.M. Fuji) @1Lap 4. Emma Drummond (Springdale, Ark./Bell & Company Mountain Biking) @1Lap 5. Camryn Sippy (Durango, Colo./Durango Devo) @1Lap
Women Junior - 11-12
1. Katie Clouse (Park City, Utah/Cole Sport) 43:22 2. Abigail Youngwerth (Boise, Idaho/BYRDS (Boise Young Rider Dev Squad) 45:57 3. Elle Williams (Big Bear City, Calif.) 47:00 4. Morgan Fortin (Albuquerque, N.M./Goathead Jr. Devo) @1Lap 5. Phoebe Dunn (Chino Valley, Ariz./Absolute Bikes Team) @1Lap
Women Junior - 1-10
1. Sydney Palmerleger (Park City, Utah) 36:19 2. Lauren Bingham (Sandy, Utah/DNA Cycling-UT) 38:34 3. Ann Drummond (Springdale, Ark./Bell & Company Mountain Biking) 41:21 4. Anja Jensen (Hailey, Idaho/Mud Honey) @1Lap 5. Hattie Ransom (Alpine, Utah) @1Lap